Losing weight, dieting, call it however you like, sucks. It’s not fun. Well, it can be fun. But only if the alternative is being eaten by a shark. But for the most part, dieting sucks and you can make it even more exhausting and torturous if you do things that you shouldn’t do.
Here are five things that you shouldn’t do when dieting because they will lead to an unhealthy relationship with dieting and possibly, disordered eating.
1. Trying to ”exercise off” calories
Anyone who tried losing weight has been in the situation where the week goes well but one day you somehow end up secretly pigging out on brownies and cookies ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. After a lot of swearing and feeling guilty, your brain goes hey let’s go to the gym tomorrow and burn those calories off, maybe?
The problem is that even if you overate only by 1,000 kcal, no reasonable amount of exercise is going to make up for that. Remember when I said that if you are a female weighing 160 pounds, you will burn only around 300 kcal in a 90-minute intense resistance training workout? Yeah, that. You will be slaving away at the gym for hours while hating the exercise modality you chose for the job.
So in a sense, you use exercise as a punishment to “burn off” all the extra calories you ate. It’s a losing battle every time that makes you feel like shit. Exercise isn’t meant to be a punishment for eating. Exercise is meant to make you stronger, more muscular, and healthier.
So the next time you eat too many calories in one day, the best thing you can do is to (brace yourself here because I’m about to reveal to you an advanced strategy that, I’m sure, no one has ever written about) get back on track and follow your usual diet.
2. Restricting your diet even more after binging or overeating
This one is similar to the previous point except that instead of trying to “burn off” calories, you somehow rationalize that water fasting, detoxing, or cleansing is the way to go.
One of my clients had a binge recently and texted me this:
I replied with:
I understand that eating off-plan feels like losing progress and it’s a common temptation to starve yourself batshit crazy to get back into a calorie deficit. However, it makes the situation even worse — it takes away your diet structure and causes feelings of guilt and shame. Plus, binge eating thrives when there’s no structure.
But as you might have expected, I have a solution:
After you binge or overeat, continue with your normal plan — eating at regular times, drinking more water, and emphasizing protein, fruits, and veggies.
What you don’t need to do is starve yourself, drink apple cider vinegar until it starts leaking from your nostrils or order a few packets of diarrhea teas. There’s time and place for these things. And it’s never and nowhere.
3. Eating fewer calories on rest days just because you didn’t train
Unless you are calorie cycling, eating fewer calories on rest days doesn’t make sense and it’s stupid. Holy shit, I wrote an article about that so let’s leave it at that — it doesn’t make sense and it’s stupid. Go read the article.
4. Bringing a food scale with you anywhere outside your own home
I’m a big fan of tracking calories and I’m grateful for the overall knowledge of nutrition it has helped me to build but as with most things in life, it can be taken too far. Sohee Lee, a health coach and researcher, once wrote:
“The point of learning how to count macros is not to make you neurotic and obsessive about your diet or the rest o your days; it’s to help you get to your fitness goal in the most efficient means possible.”
If you find yourself turning down social events due to getting anxiety around the food that would be there (because you don’t know the exact macros of those foods), then weighing food and tracking calories no longer serve you as a teaching tool.
If that’s you, focusing on the right behaviors, such as eating protein, veggies, and fruits at most meals, establishing a consistent day-to-day meal structure, eating without distraction, etc., might be a better option.
Further reading: Hate Calorie Counting? You’re Doing It Wrong (Here’s A Better Way)
5. Labeling food as “good” and “bad”
Labeling foods into categories of things you can’t have and things you can is called dichotomous thinking. This “black-and-white” thinking towards food may be risky not only for people with eating disorders but also for everyone who is trying to restrain in order to maintain their weight.
Not only that but as this study found…
…thinking in terms of binary oppositions such as “good or bad,” “clean or dirty,” and “healthy or unhealthy” may be the reason why people fail to sustain their diets and regain weight in the long-term. “Good/healthy/clean” foods become perceived as a forbidden fruit which is a setup for overeating and falling off the wagon.
Listen, it’s okay to eat foods you don’t consider “good/healthy/clean.” There’s nothing wrong with choosing a donut over an apple. An apple is more nutritious, sure. But a donut will make you really damn happy and keep deprivation at bay.
Learning to fit both in your diet is the ultimate goal because the diet as a whole is what makes the difference when it comes to weight loss and overall health.
Give yourself permission to enjoy treats every now and then to give dietary relief and keep deprivation to a minimum. You are not a silly-looking Japanese robot — you don’t need to choose the “good/healthy/clean” food all the time.
I’m trying to write a cool conclusion now. But I’m also tired. I started turning nouns into adjectives. And I can’t come up with a single cohesive sentence. So that’s the best you will get from me for a conclusion.
Thank you for reading. Bye.
Originally published by me on Medium on June 21, 2022